Sitting high up in the cabin of a combine harvester, I look down to see the wheat below being hungrily gobbled up by the machine’s metal teeth as we pass over it.
I’m amazed at how quickly and easily it seems to happen – within seconds the tall strands of wheat are stripped and the grains spurted out into the tank at the back.
“You’re very lucky,” says Mike Armstrong, who’s sitting next to me, driving the combine. “You’ve timed your trip well to be here right at the end of harvest.”
We’re on Mike’s farm, Callubri Station, about 50 kilometres south of Nyngan, right in the centre of New South Wales. It’s been in his family for generations and recently he and his wife, Angie, have opened it up to visitors. But, unlike some farmstays that are predominately geared to tourists, Callubri Station is still a massive working farm and, as a visitor, what you’ll see and do depends on the season.
“We try to offer an experience of what’s going on at the farm at the time, so that’s what’s led us to being in a harvester today,” Mike explains.
This is the outback, as confirmed by the red dirt that’s already covering the city-slicker sneakers that I rather foolishly brought with me. And it’s vast. Callubri Station is about 11,300 hectares and, even though we bump along kilometres of unsealed track in Mike’s troopie, I see only one small group of sheep, with the other 8000 spread across the paddocks, far out of sight. But if I was here in March, I would be joining the workers for the lambing season, or perhaps for shearing in August.
“Part of the reason people are coming here is to completely step out of their life and be immersed in ours,” Angie tells me. “I quite like travel when it’s fairly organic, so you arrive and see what’s on offer and let the trip evolve a bit.”
That’s easy to do at Callubri Station because, alongside the authentic farm experience, it offers a luxurious package for visitors. The modern accommodation called Sky Suites has dreamy beds and air-conditioning, with direct access to the 12-metre pool. Looking across from the deck of your room, you’ll see the historic wool shed and then the old shearers’ quarters that have been converted into the large lounge and dining room where Angie serves the meals with matching wines, her background in catering coming to the fore.
“There’s a bit of everything for everyone, so if you want to just come and laze by the pool and eat a grazing board, you can do that,” said Angie.
But most visitors will want to do more than that. One of the main reasons that farmstays have become more popular in recent years is that people are keen to learn about life on the land, whether it’s a vineyard in the Hunter Valley, a horse stud in the Central West or even an alpaca farm on the South Coast.
Some of the most popular farmstays have turned heritage buildings into deluxe homesteads perfect for families or groups of friends, while others focus on the agriculture and give visitors an insight into running a farm. There are family-focused ranches where children can get a firsthand experience of milking cows, or large rural properties with activities such as mountain biking and horse riding.
In general, farmstays could probably be described the same way Angie thinks about hers and Mike’s – “there’s a bit of everything for everyone”. You won’t find many, though, that are both as remote and luxurious as Callubri Station.
Other NSW farmstays
Ba Mack Farmstay
Near Mudgee, Ba Mack Farmstay is a sheep station with a focus on the younger guests, offering plenty of activities including feeding the lambs, pony rides and homemade afternoon tea. But parents won’t be bored, with luxurious country accommodation and the option of babysitting, if you want to pop into town for a meal.
Cape Byron Farm
Byron Bay isn’t all hipsters and beaches. In the hinterland, Cape Byron Farm offers cottages set on 120 hectares which are used mainly for cattle grazing. One of the star attractions is the view, with sweeping vistas over the rolling hills, the property’s lake and down to the ocean, while there’s also rainforest on the farm that you can explore.
Kimo Estate near Gundagai is a relatively large farm, with sheep and cattle across its 2800 hectares. With a range of accommodation, including eco huts, cottages and historic shearers quarters, it could be used for a romantic getaway or a 200-guest wedding. Likewise, the activities range from winery visits to a six-day horse-riding camp with stockmen.
It doesn’t get much more outback than Eldee Station, a huge farm in the red dirt near Broken Hill. You’ll find a warm welcome and hot meals at the homestead, but you can also spend hours exploring the 4WD tracks on the property, with incredible views of the Mundi Mundi Plains, plus the brightest night sky you’ll ever see.